Family finds dual faiths can work - East Valley Tribune: West Valley

Family finds dual faiths can work

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Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 12:45 pm

Just after sundown today at the home of Cheryl and Dereck Gardner, prayers will be read from the Haggadah, and then the couple and their two children will enjoy a traditional Passover meal just like they will sit down to an Easter feast on Sunday.

Cheryl is Jewish; Dereck is Christian. The Peoria couple practice what they preach.

The Gardners, parents of two girls, Khylie, 15, and Kenna, 12, are accepting of other religions, cultures and beliefs, and celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and all the Christian and Jewish holidays in between.

They are members of Temple Gan Elohim, a reform Jewish synagogue in Glendale, which caters to families, singles, interfaith couples, retirees and young adults, regardless of beliefs.

“I like hearing Hebrew and hearing the kids recite it in temple,” Dereck said.

For Cheryl, holding a Seder on the first night of Passover has been a family tradition since she was a young girl growing up in an interfaith household. She always thought mixing love and religion wouldn’t bring about complications.

However, Cheryl said she failed to communicate her intentions of raising her children Jewish to a former husband, which resulted in fights and ultimately divorce. Both daughters are from her current marriage, and there are no messy complications relating to faith.

Well, except maybe Dereck’s desire to eat bread during Passover, although he says he’s able to hold out – most of the time, anyway.

Because the consumption of “chametz” is forbidden during Passover in most Jewish households, all bread, cakes, most alcoholic beverages and products containing high fructose corn syrup are often shelved away or disposed of. Matzah is eaten in place of bread.

To avoid temptation and adhere to the Jewish principles, Cheryl often stores bread in cupboards or the refrigerator in the garage. Dereck, like some of the younger Gardner family members, struggles to stay away from bread during the eight-day-long holiday.

Sometimes he fancies himself a sandwich by day four, which Cheryl says she’s OK with, as long as it is not in plain sight of her, Khylie and Kenna.

But celebrating Christian and Jewish holidays has never been an issue for the Gardners.

Dereck is not much of a practicing Christian, although the family plans to have a big Easter dinner this weekend and will “go all out” for Christmas as they do every year.

“He eats matzah,” Cheryl says of her husband. “We find a way to make (all the holidays) work and for both Dereck and I to feel included.”

Dereck said the laid back, welcoming nature of the family’s reform synagogue also allows him to enjoy learning more about Judaism and being accepting of other customs and beliefs.

“He’s close with the rabbis, and we hear from them that he’s more Jewish than some of the non-Jews who attend the synagogue,” Cheryl said.

More than anything, Khylie and Kenna say they enjoy being part of an interfaith family. Cheryl said the girls can decide at age 18 what religion to follow, if any.

“When you share your community with others, it puts off the mentality of inclusiveness and that everyone is welcome,” Cheryl says. “It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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